If you have driven through a highway, bridge, or tunnel in New York City, you have Robert Moses to thank for it; moreover, if you look at much of the current makeup of the city, it’s due to Moses, who held myriad titles throughout his forty-year career in the governments of New York City and New York State. But a list of bridges, tunnels, and buildings does not even begin to scratch the surface of Robert Caro’s exhaustive biography of the life of the man who literally shaped the nation’s leading city.
Published in 1974 when New York City was descending into the nadir of its existence, The Power Broker is a thorough look at Robert Moses’ life and a treatise on the nature of power. While definitely in the thick of New York City and State politics, Moses himself was a lifelong bureaucrat who found ways to influence several of the city’s mayors and the state’s governors, even if his relationships with many–among them, Fiorello LaGuardia, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Nelson Rockefeller–was often adversarial. Caro, whose research was extensively detailed, weaves a story of a man who went from an idealist to blinded by his own ego, his fall eventually coming because the visionary he once had been wielded too much power and influence for his own good.
I spent much of my life driving around the highways and parkways of Long Island, all of which have their origin stories with Moses and can be found within the book; in fact, I spent summers in college working at Robert Moses State Park. But even though I feel I have a personal connection to Moses and The Power Broker, I’ll admit that this book was a feat of strength to read. At a grand total of 1366 pages (if you count notes and the index), The Power Broker is not a leisurely read and could be the basis for its very own seminar or course. But the accomplishment of finishing the book proved well worth it.
You should read this book if …
- You have a serious interest in the history of New York State, New York City, and Long Island.
- You’ve read Gotham by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace (itself a tome) and want to continue a look at New York City history.
- You’re a fan of The Bowery Boys NYC History Podcast and want to learn more about Robert Moses.
- You’ve got an interest in politics and political history and want to see how theories of power (and the egos of the men who wield it) often play out in real life.